AJ: That’s exactly right. For those people to come out and help us make it a kind of contemporary family musical statement from a lot of contemporary family…music family people today. They helped George and I make the statement on Givin’ It Up and it really speaks volumes itself about the respect that we enjoy in the industry and people wanting to be part of it and help make a kind of “today” musical statement.
Smitty: Yes, and not just the respect that they have for you and George as musicians and entertainers but as people and what you stand for….over the years. Because we all know what you cats are made of and I’m just stoked that you two have put this together along with all the great people with the upfront ideas and put this whole thing together and to pull all these incredible artists together is a great thing.
AJ: Yeah, yeah. And it doesn’t feel contrived. When you look at that list of people just on its own, you get the feeling it’s contrived and it might be forced. But when you listen to what they did….and not all of those people are everywhere on the record. We put them in places to make the statement that comes out of their best work that fits in a certain place on the record. “We should have a solo in this spot that’s like….no, not a sax solo….we want a trumpet solo. Well, why don’t we call Chris Botti to do that?” (“Let It Rain”) “Hey, good idea!” “Think he’ll do it? Hey, man, worth the call.” “Let’s call Stanley Clarke. We need someone to come play upright on this and get that upright bill. Let’s call Stanley. I’m gonna see if he’ll come and help us.” And Patrice Rushen, basic trio, the recording trio, she was part of it.
Smitty: And isn’t she fantastic, man?
AJ: Ahhh, such a sweetie pie.
Smitty: Yes indeed and loaded with talent.
AJ: Loaded with talent and just a sweetie pie, I’m telling you. You come in the studio and you see her and you gotta go over and hug her. (Laughs.)
Smitty: Yes indeed, yes.
AJ: Yeah. And Sir Paul McCartney. (Laughs.)
Smitty: Yes. Al, please share that story. I know the story, but I want all the fans to hear this story about Paul McCartney coming in and doing a song with you cats on the album, Givin’ It Up.
AJ: So we’re at the old Charlie Chaplin Studios that became A&M Records and on those movie studio grounds there are several recording studios, probably eight or ten on the grounds there, so there are people walking around, you know, recording. You might run into anybody there. Sure enough, “God, you’ll never guess who I just saw. I just saw Paul McCartney.” He was recording a record and he’s sitting out there having a coffee on the deck (both laughing) and he comes in the studio, comes in our studio looking for George and wanting to say hi to me, but he and George know each other. George did a record called The Other Side of Abbey Road.
AJ: And those guys fell in love with George. Well, more in love with George. Anyone who has played guitar and gets beyond their fourth lesson knows about George Benson. There are very few guitar players in history who have played what George can play. And so he came in there, he and George are hugging and jumping up and down like little school kids who haven’t seen each other since summer vacation. And he greets me warmly. “You did some wonderful charity work with my wife. Hi, Al. How you doing? Great to see you guys. You’re working on a project together? Oh, that’s fantastic, man. Oh, that’s fantastic.” And George says “Paul, come and sing on this song.” (“Bring It On Home To Me”) “Do you believe the bloody cheek of this guy? Ha-ha-ha-ha! I’m trying to do me own album on this date and he’s asking me to come and sing on this record.”
AJ: We laughed so hard, I couldn’t believe George did that. “George, are you crazy?” (Both laughing.) “George, have you lost your very mind?” Two days later Paul comes in the studio and says “Okay, I’m ready.”
AJ: “Okay, I’ll do it.” And sang it down once. George asked him to sing it down again and then George asked him to sing it down a third time, and I just can’t believe…George ought to be a politician. (Both laughing.) I saw George just so smoothly with that best beg in his eyes that you have ever seen and Paul responded. “We’re so close to greatness here, man. If you give me just one more take, I know that we’re gonna have something that you’re gonna be so proud of on this record, Paul. What do you think? Can you do it one more time?” “All right, let’s go. All right.”
AJ: Man, it still brings tears to my eyes looking at George’s face. All of a sudden we’ve got a studio full of people who can’t believe that Paul McCartney was there….they came from other studios in the building on the property and they’re in the recording booth being quiet and trying to stand back out of the way so as to not be seen and make a scene and make Paul self-conscious. This is a moment in history that no one can believe, and when people read what you write about this, they’ll go “Nah, that stuff didn’t happen.”
AJ: “Al lied. Come on, Al. Come on, Al. Stop lying.” (Both laughing.) George asked him to do it a third time. You should’ve seen the look on George’s face while Paul is singing. He looks like he’s four years old.
Smitty: Oh my goodness.
AJ: I swear to God. He looks four years old. I’ve never seen a look on his face like that before or since, and the smile, the smile, it was such pure delight and joy. It was Christmas morning and the favorite toy had just been opened and that lasted for 40 minutes while Paul sang.
Smitty: Wow, that’s incredible. And the track is incredible.
Smitty: Man, and with no pun intended, but he brought it home to me. (Laughs.)
AJ: Yeah, he brought it home. He gave it, man. He was classic Paul. With everything from “oh,” from his “oohs,” you know….that existed in “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” (Both laughing.)
Smitty: Yes sir.
AJ: And Rocky Raccoon, you know, brought that “ooh” and that voice that has all of that character in it that we came to love and associated with.
Smitty: Yes. So now tell me about the songs. I mean, did you both get together on song selection or did John already have that worked out? Because these are all great songs.
AJ: The only thing that John did in that regard was say “You guys just do comfortable songs.” Well, we’re all sitting there in his office and the first thing is “I would love for you to do each other’s material.” That was the first idea and I said “Hey, I’m ready. I got a start on…” Well, actually, it was my wife in the process. I was sitting and talking on the telephone to somebody about the project after one of our first meetings and she came in and put a note on my lap while I’m sitting there talking and the note said “Finish ‘Breezin’ and ‘Six to Four.’” Do you know “Six to Four”?
Smitty: Oh yeah.
AJ: Oh, hey, I started a lyric on “Six to Four” too.
AJ: And this was back in the seventies I started those lyrics. And I didn’t use the lyric from that period. I wanted something fresh for “Breezin’”. I wanted to do that and John suggested that George do something of mine and George had wanted to think about that for a while and, you know, I don’t have many classics beyond “We’re in This Love Together” and “Mornin’”….
AJ: Yeah, I don’t, you know, I don’t have a list of 15 songs that someone could pick from that folks would say “Oh, that’s Al Jarreau and that’s a song known.” No, no. George has got a list that reads like the Encyclopedia Britannica. (Laughs.)
Smitty: Yeah, he’s got a list. He’s definitely got a list.
AJ: George did a little…a lot more recording than I have.
Smitty: Yeah, but you’ve got some classics too, brother.
AJ: Anyway, George thought for a while and came up with “Mornin’” and came up with this great arrangement. And Michael Broening helped us with the arrangement….what he came up with for “Mornin’” and what you hear, you know, had just a different kind of feel.
Smitty: Yeah, man. It’s sweet, though.
AJ: It kind of felt different than the way I laid it out on my record. Then we’re sitting in John Burk’s office and it is around the first or second meeting that we’ve had about this, and George says “Al, man, there’s some things that people love, some songs that have become classics. They’re new classics. Just think about what we have. I think if we did ‘Summer Breeze’…” I went “Whew.” And then when he mentioned “Every Time You Go Away”….I said “George, I wanna hug you.”
AJ: That’s the kind of openness in thinking that we need.
AJ: These things you’re absolutely right. If we can give a credible reading to those pieces of music and put our stamp on it, hey, we’re home. Those people are gonna eat that stuff up, and even if we don’t sell a gazillion records, it’ll be a classic because we took those classic pieces of music and did really good work with it, and we did. So, you know, I’m predicting here…. (Laughs.) I’m a little afraid, but I’m making the prediction that this record will be a milestone for us and, I don’t know, maybe some sort of little classic coming together of artists who’ve been around a long time and who have real stature in the industry. And it’ll go down as a kind of moment.